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Premedia RIP 1985-2008

Joe Cha, President, QUEBECORWORLD PREMEDIA (February 2008) - As print creators look toward what's ahead in our industry this year and beyond, it is finally time to bid a nostalgic farewell to one part of this business: my part. Traditional premedia as we know it has finally died. It belongs to a venerable chapter of print history, along with earlier great times in typesetting and film. Just as the dinosaurs passed before our human race, we color separators leave museum artifacts behind that inspire awe in our younger generation. "Wow, you 'etched' dots?"

Evidence of our demise can be seen in major parts of the gravure trade. Like animals in a zoo, caged without food, premedia competitors for magazines, catalogs, and retailers have turned on themselves through predatory pricing in a frenzied race to the bottom. Legendary client/vendor relationships, some lasting longer than I have been alive, have wilted in the light of overseas competition. Even inhouse production for 'Premedia' offers no safe harbor as requests for updated equipment put a frown on the CFO faces who championed moves 'in house' only a few years before.

In a time when competition from rich media, increasing paper costs, and postal rates converge on a sub prime consumer environment, one could easily understand why you would flip this page and start another article. Respectfully, death can be depressing. But like all change in life, as the cliché goes, when one door closes another one opens. Charles Darwin shared an insight we might adapt here that "it is not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the ones most responsive to change." Change, not only for the printers of content but also for the publishers and creators of content, now offers both sides an opportunity to thrive in a new world of integrated media production.

In days previous, print acted as a significant mass media instrument to drive demand. While over the last decade, 'web' departments in other buildings or on another floor simply received finished or leftover product from our side. These days, relative positions of importance have shifted. Now, the online department has moved next door. As convergence begins, some print customers may become as besieged as their present vendors when they realize the CFO has a new darling in the Internet team.

Here is where print customer and vendor share their new opportunity. In spite of advances in automation and overseas outsourcing, worthy of articles in their own right, there remains a basic labor hour per 'page' for either ink on paper or HTML. When you include upstream, post-concept portions, that basic process, regardless of media type, continues to be manual, tedious, and expensive. The key: as content creation evolves, we will see an integrated media production department rather than separate Web and print departments. In this new shift, media will be managed from one, central 'place' where creators focus on concept quality and production focuses on output quality for all media.

As a Yahoo! alumnus, I've witnessed the fawning many bricks-and-mortar executives express for their mostly deserving Web departments. But when print and Web combine, I'm betting it will be the forward thinking print executive who leverages the forward thinking media production partner that takes charge. Why? Because relative to the Web-only department manager, the media production manager with a print background has lived where quality control in edit and content were critical success factors (e.g. you can't fix a logo on a cylinder the way you can on your home page). Furthermore, this over arching manager of the future will be versed, from the right partners, in the growing number of disparate technologies needed to produce dynamic, multi-platform work. Deep experience in print will remain an integral and expensive part of the overall media mix and will underscore new breadth in concurrently developing and often-unstable technologies.

This bodes well for the deceased too. The production convergence underway will continue creating opportunities for forward thinking media production partners to innovate and re-earn their seat at the table. From consulting services to Web 2.0, adaptable vendors will test and combine every new product with their existing platforms to stretch their reputations into new territory. By joining the quality of the traditional craft side (scanner operators may be the best photoshop technicians for a reason) with timely new features, the client vendor relationship can actually grow stronger than before. Based on a partnership of innovation the new bond comes from genuine value creation for both parties not simply from memories on the golf course and an incredibly good bottle of wine.

The best part of all that is nothing about this is new. Market changes have been and will continue moving us ahead for years. The elder statesmen in our business have as much to share because they know better than the rest we'll succeed only when we work together. Customers need all the advantages they can get to meet their challenges and vendors can help them by seeing change as an opportunity to innovate.

Welcome to the next life.

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